New Helicopter Service Guarantees Food Relief to Somali Refugees

WFP has launched a helicopter air service to provide assistance to Somali refugees in Ethiopia. The operation is financed by the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid department (ECHO). Copyright: WFP/Nigel Sanders

WFP has launched a helicopter air service to deliver urgently needed food assistance to camps in Ethiopia hosting Somali refugees. Made possible by support from the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid department (ECHO), the helicopter will allow regular access to camps in Dolo Ado where fixed-wing aircraft have been unable to land since heavy rains flooded the airstrip.

ADDIS ABABA – WFP today started a helicopter service linking the refugee camps in Dolo Ado with the town of Gode, in Ethiopia’s Somali Region, a critical connection that will keep heavy rainfall from disrupting humanitarian services to the camps.

Heavy rains and a flooded airstrip have frequently prevented the regular UN Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) flights using fixed-wing aircraft from landing in Dolo Ado.The helicopter operation is financed by the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid department.

“We are deeply grateful to the European Union for responding so quickly and generously to this urgent situation” said Stanlake Samkange, WFP’s Regional Director for East and Central Africa. “This helicopter service is not only essential to provide the necessary assistance to Somali refugees in Dolo Ado but it will also allow us to organize medical evacuations if needed.”

Logistics critical

The MI-8 helicopter can carry up to 19 passengers or three tons of cargo. It will fly for the next two weeks between Gode in the Somali Region of Ethiopia and Dolo Ado, when weather conditions prevent the regular fixed-wing planes from landing.

Until now, if the airstrip was closed, humanitarian workers were instead forced to make a two-day drive from Addis Ababa– when road conditions allowed it. This has affected humanitarian operations in Dolo Ado for the last several weeks.

"When responding to emergencies, logistics is a critical element. This is why the European Commission is funding two civilian helicopters to ease access to crises zones around the world ," says Kristalina Georgieva, the European Commissioner responsible for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response. "The rapid deployment of one helicopter to southern Ethiopia will ensure that humanitarian operations in Dolo Ado continue to run smoothly," she said.

Raising capacity

The helicopter is part of the Regional Aviation Emergency Response Capacity based in Uganda, which WFP recently established as part of its global emergency response programme.

It allows reduced response time during an emergency, ensuring that helicopters are rapidly made available to transport humanitarian workers and deliver cargo when an area is inaccessible to regular aircraft. The European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid department is the main donor to this project.